Persona Non Grata
(26/11-2010) The Norwegian Helsinki Committee's new report Persona Non Grata: The CIS ban system for human rights defenders and journalists, shows that over the past several years, six members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have developed a common system reminiscent of the Schengen system in Europe, where individuals who are denied entry to one of the six member states automatically are denied entry to the others.
The countries currently part of the agreement are Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Parallel with the development of this Joint System, many CIS countries have also increased the practice of “blacklisting” certain foreign nationals involved in human rights work and journalism. Such decisions are usually made by the security services of the country in question, and those who are barred in this manner are neither provided with a reason for the ban, nor given any means of appeal.
With the Joint System in place, such decisions are multiplied six-fold. Usually, bans are imposed for periods as long as 5 or 10 years, and have proven difficult or impossible to remove once in place, even when requests are made through diplomatic channels and international organizations.
In addition, most CIS countries also administer national lists of journalists and representatives of non-governmental organizations who are barred from entering the country. These lists also include citizens of other CIS countries.
These practices must be seen as attempts of the states to limit contact between human rights activists at home with their colleagues abroad, as well as to limit unwanted scrutiny and investigation of potential human rights violations.
Such actions are contrary to article 2 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders according to which states are committed to take all necessary steps to ensure that the rights of human rights defenders are effectively guaranteed.There also exist very clear OSCE provisions committing participating States to respect and facilitate the work of human rights defenders.
For journalists and representatives of international non-governmental organizations working in the sphere of human rights and democracy this system represents a potentially dramatic curb on their ability to carry out their work.
The CIS ban system has been granted limited attention by international organizations such as the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the EU.
Even though these organizations and individual states occasionally respond to restrictive practices of banning entry of human rights defenders and journalists, there is clearly a need for a more systematic approach to the problem. As it is today, too much depend on the efforts of the individual banned or deported to have his or her case raised.
The EU, the US as well as the OSCE and the UN clearly need to develop effective procedures and mechanisms which can respond more forcefully to these threats against international human rights activism.